For the last 75 years, the United States has led the world in technological innovation and development, investing heavily in scientific research and development (R&D). The technologies that emerged have left an indelible mark on society and are responsible for making the U.S. an economic powerhouse and military giant. Today, we face another pivotal moment in history where the U.S. technological leadership is not guaranteed. Competition to lead the development, application, and governance of emerging technologies with world-altering potential such as AI, semiconductors, fifth-generation cellular networks (5G), quantum computing, and robotics has elevated innovation’s role in geopolitics, as nations race to harness innovation’s promises of prosperity and security.
While the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Information Directorate has been successful in leveraging national and international R&D opportunities to maintain U.S.’s leadership in the discovery, development, and delivery of warfighting technologies for the U.S. Air, Space, and Cyberspace forces, AFRL will need to: enhance their ability to measure how effectively project outcomes and associated capabilities align with Department of Defense technology priorities; select potential international partners given the constraints of balancing partners’ technical advantages against political implications; and evaluate the optimal level of effort that should be pursued given operational realities and strategic need. This paper recommends the development of a systematic and quantifiable framework to help AFRL identify and assess potential international partnership and investment opportunities to ensure the effective development of critical technologies that confer strategic value and geopolitical power.